I admit it: it took me a long time before I was able to see Moonlight. I knew in order to be ready for such an honest work of art, I needed to be ready. Ready to reminisce on my own journey. Ready to wade deeper. Into the restless, heartbreaking waters of myself. Like so many other men. In hopes of revealing something special. Vulnerable.
I won’t rely solely on my own words for this one. So, I’ve sampled the eloquence from key points of Jenkins’s screenplay to follow the journey, from Blue to Black, with one goal in mind: capture the truth that exists within us all, illuminated in the moonlight where “black boys look blue.”
Photography: Google Images
This one time… I ran by this old,
old lady, was just a runnin’ and a
hollerin’ and cuttin’ a fool, boy.
And this old lady, she stop me and
she say to me, ‘Look at you.”
I was a lil’ bad ass too, you know.’
She say, ‘Look at you’ and I say
‘Look at you!’ Then she smiled
and she say, ‘running around
catching up all this light.
In moonlight’ she say, ‘black boys
look blue. You blue,’ she say.
‘That’s what I’m gone call you: Blue.
Sometimes salvation comes in the form of a whisper. A breeze. A cool one you’d never expect. And sometimes that whisper comes from the daring few, like Juan, aka Blue, who are willing to stick around. Still ask how you’re doing when they know you won’t answer. Yet still they ask. Still they stay. Stay. Until like a stubborn germination, you take your time. Eventually opening up. Giving trust.
As a young black boy, I was shown trust was off limits, except for mama, blood (family), and then almost blood (friends). That didn’t necessarily mean mama, blood, and then almost blood wouldn’t hurt you, just that you would one day be strong enough to bear it. The burden of family and bonds outside of yourself.
And like so many other black boys, it felt like too much. So like a stubborn germination, I curled into a ball, hoping one day I’d be stronger. Strong enough to bear it. An existence that invited clear and present danger. Which meant the blows from the other boys who were 8, like me, but also 9, 10, 12, 14, and 16, would still hurt. But only until I became numb to pain. Inside and out. Until I met a boy like Kevin. Except his name Jay.
See, you just gotta show them
niggas you ain’t soft.
I ain’t soft.
I know man, I know. But…
(pauses for effect)…don’t mean nothin’
if they don’t know.
Come on…let’s wrestle.
Little limply obliging, visually, physically passive.
Come on man, you want these
niggas to pick on you every day?
That gets to Little, the boy locking on, muscles tensing: they’re wrestling. […] Kevin’s cheek wedged close to Little’s neck, blades of grass sticking to their skin. The boys on the ground, turning and rolling and laughing, huffing through exhausted breaths. […] Physical exhaustion. The boys lie flat. […]
See Chiron, I knew you wasn’t soft.
Ain’t no epiphany greater than an ass whoopin’. But not just any ass whoopin’. The kind where he straddles you, slaps you across the face, and then pulls you back on top of him. Leaving you helpless, as the pride below his waist rises. You blush in embarrassment–for him and for you. Suddenly the sting on your cheek doesn’t hurt anymore. So you sit still, pretending not to notice. Because ain’t no epiphany worth a second ass whoopin’. And like that, you become friends.
Silently remembering: Real epiphanies happen after the third ass whoopin’. Where you’re no longer bested by him. But you get a slap in. A jab, too. You’re stronger. No longer his bitch. So you join forces, like true friends. Allowing others to underestimate you. His grin of confidence, flashing brightly. Because he knows your secret.
He hides it. From the big boys across the street. From other, wilder hoods. So they can wink at you. Make kissy faces and shit. Only for them to experience the only truth: Ain’t no epiphany greater than an ass whoopin’. But not just any ass whoopin’. The kind that hurts your feelings, like a pop in the mouth. But strangely warms your heart. They try to pull you on top of them. “Nah, nigga,” you whisper. So you show them no epiphany is worth a second ass whoopin’. They learned their lesson. And then I learned one I’d never forget.
Sometimes round the way, where we live,
you can catch this same breeze. It come through
the hood and it’s like everything stop
for a second ‘cause everybody just wanna feel it.
Everything just get quiet, you know?
And it’s like all you can hear
is your own heartbeat, right?
Yeah… feel so good, man.
A long beat as that thought lingers between them. The ocean.
Hell, shit make you wanna cry, feel so good.
Chiron looking to Kevin now:
Nah. But it make me want to.
Kevin flashing that big, cool ass smile.
What you cry about?
You cry, Chiron?
I cry so much sometimes I think
one day I’m gone just turn into drops.
But then you could just roll out into the water, right?
Roll out into the water like all these
other muhfuckers out here tryna drown they sorrows.
Why you say that?
I’m just listenin’ to you, nigga.
Sound like somethin’ you wanna do.
I wanna do a lotta things that don’t make sense.
Alone, we bond over pain. Shared burdens. The burdens that are too much. From mama, blood, and then almost blood. The kind of bonding that requires game controllers, kool aid, and talking shit. A trifecta that beckons salvation, redemption. For all who dare pray between the silences that speak. No words. Just the click of colorful plastic, red lips and blue tongues, and as much profanity our cheeks can muster.
A new burden creeps in. One where boys will be boys, as the older men say. The one no one talks about. Laced with shy glances and grins. Accidental brushes. Intentional hushes. The one that requests a timeout and refills of sugar-filled libations.
The one we never see coming but has been there all along. The gentle push. That sends us over. Now, we’re hanging from a cliff for dear life. Eyes locked. Never wanting to let go. Hearts about to explode out of our chests. Exhausted. Shallow breaths. Wide eyes of shock. A gentle push, where neither budges.
To shoulder this new burden, you must make a move. A move without consent. Hoping it will come later. Or come now. Suddenly. Unexpected. With blushing cheeks. And a pregnant silence between us. Threatening a miscarriage. Or a touchdown. Depending on the move.
A move that can relinquish burdens, temporarily. Create hope between the hopeless. In the form of clasped fingers, locked ankles, and pressed lips. Where boys will be boys. Redemption’s song. Freedom within grasp. But I run. And I never look back. Leaving you hanging from the cliff. Alone. Because I was scared.
You remember the last time I saw you?
At first, just a nod from Black, a plaintive gesture from his body but in those eyes, so much more.
For a long time, tried not to remember.
Tried to forget all those times.
All of it.
Yeah. I know.
When we got to Atlanta…
I started over. Built myself from the ground up.
Built myself hard.
Black fixes him in his sights, more directly than before:
You’re the only man who’s ever touched me.
The air going out of Kevin’s chest, his gaze fixated on Black’s lips, anticipating the words falling from there:
The only one.
Black’s hand is flat atop the table between them. His eyes lower to it:
I haven’t really touched anyone, since.
[scene changes from kitchen to bed]
Black sitting at the foot of the bed, fully clothed, hands clasped between his knees, leaned over slightly. Kevin standing before him, frozen. They hold each other’s eyes. Black stands shakily. Kevin watches him as he closes the space between them, drawing right up to him. Kevin takes a hand and lays it flat against Black’s chest. A puzzled look coming over Kevin’s face.
Kevin crosses the doorway, flips a switch: TOTAL DARKNESS …only the soft thudding of feet crossing the floor.
I’m still shakin’.
The SOUND of bodies touching, the beginning of things.
In history’s pockets are mothballs and regrets. A necessary stench to reminisce on what could have been. The almosts. Shoulda woulda couldas. The whispers of what ifs and perhaps. A nod to what was. And what could have been. A place reserved only for fledgeling innocence.
As time passes, we hope it becomes easier. And even if it does, with experience, it doesn’t. Because of history’s pockets filled with mothballs and regrets. Of salvation in the form of a whisper. A breeze. A stubborn germination curled into a ball, hoping one day to be stronger. Silently remembering: Real epiphanies happen after the third ass whoopin’. Where you’re no longer bested by him. You’re stronger. No longer his bitch.
The gentle push. That sends you over. You both hanging from a cliff for dear life. Eyes locked. Never wanting to let go. Waiting for… A move that can relinquish burdens, temporarily. Create hope between the hopeless. In the form of clasped fingers, locked ankles, and pressed lips. Where boys will be boys. Strong enough to never run again. Never leaving you hanging from the cliff. Alone. Never scared.